Students in the digital audio program at Utah Valley University in Orem are treated more like audio professionals than undergraduates. Because that's the goal.
The mixing studio they use on campus is pretty impressive. A giant sound board as big as a coffee table with knobs, levels and blinking lights. It’s Arlen Card’s job to make sure his students can make sense of it all.
“Our program is centered on making our students competent for immediate employment at a fairly high level," says Card.
Card is one of three audio professors who prepare future engineers for jobs in broadcasting, studio production or even audio forensics—one of Card’s former students regularly testifies in court as an expert witness. Overall the program has a really good track record with employment, nearly 100 percent.
“It’s intensive and the hobbyists who come here thinking it’s all about really cool album production and radio airplay they find out they’re going to get a pretty hefty foundation for it first," Card says.
That "hefty foundation" looks like ten or so students crowded around the sound board for a listening session. Card cues up a few versions of a metal song the students mixed for an assignment. He starts playing clips.
One gets the thumbs up. The other, not so much. Along with being mixed in mono the sound is also really condensed and it’s difficult to hear the individual instruments.
Card uses it as a teaching moment, explaining step by step what went wrong.
“That mix, I’m not proud of it. It was rushed," says Davin Dixon, the student in question.
Dixon is a junior who hopes to make soundtracks for video games. By now, he’s used to this kind of tough love.
“They’re very honest but it’s always constructive and very supportive," Dixon says.
It's true to real work life experience. Which is the best preparation for an industry known for having very high standards.